Since the street in front of my house more resembles a hockey rink than a thoroughfare, I’ve been trapped for the last couple of days.
I’ve taken some of that time to dig into Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains. (More info on the “Books I Like” column to the left.)
The book is utterly, completely fascinating. And troubling.
The primary theme is that the technology humans use to gather and process information — from the walls of caves to ancient papyrus to the printed word and now to the screen experience — actually shapes the neurochemistry of the brain. Our minds literally change depending on the medium.
Since the invention of the printing press, the human brain had developed the chemistry for close, patient reading of nuanced narratives and arguments.
In the last 15 years, much of that has been reversed. The internet has helped to re-shape the brain’s chemistry so that we are in a constant state of distraction.
Carr’s arguments are thoroughly consistent with my own experience of having email and internet availability at my finger tips throughout the work day.
Some nuggets from the book:
- Two of the earliest human inventions that brought fundamental change to the ways people thought: the map and the clock.
- Silent reading was unknown in the ancient world (by the way — that’s the world of the bible!).
- As the screen replaces the page, the neural pathways of our brains are being re-routed.
- In cyberspace, people read to belong.
- A permanent state of distractedness characterizes online life.
- The mind of a book reader is a calm one. The mind of a net surfer is a buzzing one.
- The internet makes us vastly overvalue what’s happening right now.
So here’s the irony in this post.
I’m putting it on the internet. And many of you will interrupt your workday concentration to read it. I’m adding to your permanent state of distractedness.
And as you comment on the post, you’ll add to mine.
Carr’s book is still more than worth the time and the read.